Kanye. Ye. Yeezy. Whatever you call him, you certainly already know him.
Having experienced a stratospheric rise to fame since his debut album was released in 2004, Kanye West is undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest stars. Bold and controversial since the start, he’s always known exactly how to keep the crowd hanging on to his every word – even when he’s saying nothing at all.
This week, 42,000 Kanye fans piled into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the rap legend finally debuted his tenth album, Donda. Wearing all red and concealing his identity with a tan mask, Kanye took to the centre of the arena and hit play on one of the most long-awaited albums of his career. It was clear to those in the crowd that – even with no set, no choreography and even no live performance whatsoever – they were watching a legend at work.
How did we get here?
Growing up in Chicago, Kanye had always been an incredibly creative child. At five, he was writing poetry. At eight, he was growing increasingly passionate about music, beginning to learn to rap. By thirteen, he was already writing and recording his own original music, even selling demos to other artists. It was becoming ever clearer to West’s mother Donda – who, of course, inspired the name of West’s latest work – that her son was meant for a very different path than most grow into.
At the age of 20, Kanye would make the decision to focus on music full-time, giving up his place at Chicago State University to do so. It proved to be the right decision rather quickly, as he began working within the music industry behind the scenes, producing for artists signed under Roc-A-Fella Records – a label founded by future friend and collaborator Jay-Z. However, despite praise for his producing work, it wasn’t what Kanye really wanted – he still just wanted to rap.
A few years later, his breakthrough came in the most unusual of ways.
After falling asleep at the wheel following a late shift at the studio, Kanye caused a head-on collision with another driver. The crash broke both legs of the other driver and left Kanye with a shattered jaw, forcing him to have his jaw wired shut. It’s a turn of events that each and every one of us would likely hope to never go through – Kanye, however, found a way to turn it into something entirely new.
In an attempt to express his feelings over the experience, Kanye put pen to paper and wrote the track Through The Wire, which he quickly went on to record – whilst his jaw was still wired shut. It was a release that laid the foundations for his first full album, appropriately named The College Dropout.
His debut was released two years later to widespread acclaim, setting Kanye off on the path to success.
The rest is history.
Given the level of confidence – and, in the eyes of many, arrogance – that Kanye has exuded throughout his career, it could be surprising to believe that the rap legend came from such humble beginnings. However, it’s certainly worth asking yourself whether or not it could be truly possible to reach such levels of success without the ego to back it up. Of course, when it comes to ego, Kanye is king – king, in itself, being a title far inferior to those the artist has previously used on himself.
There’s been repeated instances of Kanye declaring himself to be a god, including on several occasions throughout his 2013 album, Yeezus. Whether it’s something that he unironically believes or simply a way to drive controversy is something only he knows – what nobody doubts, however, is that it’s a statement that many of his fans believe entirely.
Given how he started his career with Through The Wire, it’s no secret that Kanye knows exactly how to take even the worst of life situations and spin them into gold. Perhaps that’s yet another reason why anticipation for the release of Donda is so high – Kanye West has certainly dealt with some highly-publicised struggles over the last few years. It will be interesting to see how these are handled during the course of the album.
One major event in Kanye’s life that we already know will feature on Donda is his divorce from Kim Kardashian, who attended the listening event at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There’s been no shortage of reports regarding his debut of one track on the album, Love Unconditionally, in which Kanye asks ‘Darling, how could you leave?’ and repeats ‘I’m losing my family’. Fans have even stated that he dropped to his knees as the track played out, his former wife and four children watching from the audience.
The track also features recordings of Kanye’s mother, Donda, herself, who passed away unexpectedly in 2007. Whether or not there are any more of his mother’s words on the album remains to be seen, though the album itself appears to pay tribute to her from the name alone.
Perhaps most exciting for fans are the collaborations. Kanye has always featured other successful artists within his work, but few of his collaborations have captured listeners quite like his work with Jay-Z. The two have experienced a rift in recent years, with many speculating their feud dates back to before Kanye’s marriage to Kim Kardashian – though the fallout seems to have been quashed now, as Kanye debuted a long-awaited new collaboration with Jay-Z.
It was the first of what is expected to be many surprises within the Donda album, which – as of yet – remains unfinished. However, with Kanye rumoured to have moved into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to complete work on the album following this week’s event, it looks like it won’t be long until we get to hear it in all its glory.